Why has there been a drop in the number of migrants making the journey to Europe?
We have seen a decrease in northbound migration from sub-Saharan Africa towards Europe. That's a clear trend. We’re also seeing more involuntarily immobile migrants who have become stranded in certain places. For example, people who have arrived in Libya but are not able to leave.
It’s unclear whether the flows towards North Africa have really reduced or have just become less visible because we don't see them arriving in Europe anymore. Eritreans are still leaving Eritrea and refugee camps in Ethiopia in large numbers, but we don't see them arriving in Italy anymore. Where exactly are they along the route through Sudan and southern Libya? On the West African side, we've clearly seen a big decrease in flows through Niger, especially through places like Agadez. In 2015 an anti-smuggling law was introduced which basically criminalised migrant smugglers and put a lot of them out of business. Their vehicles were confiscated and many were put in jail. This really had an impact on irregular migration flows. The numbers have gone down, but whether that has translated into reduced numbers entering Libya is less clear. All we really know is that EU pressure on countries like Niger has reduced or at least diverted the flow of people that was passing through them.
Why have the number of African migrants to Europe decreased if the EU’s intervention policies have not been successful?
First, awareness and education. I think campaigns such as the one by CNN on slavery has penetrated to the grassroots. A lot more people who didn't understand the perils of the journey are now aware. Second, the security situation in Libya. This has become a lot worse in terms of the fighting, killings, slavery, detention, etc. Third, states have increased their border security. This is partly a result of EU pressure I would think, but it also has to do with limiting the movement of jihadi terrorists, some of whom are also involved in human trafficking.
Also, people are still migrating. I think there has been a switch from migration to Europe to intra-African migration. People are still leaving The Gambia, Nigeria, etc. But since the journey to Europe has become a lot more dangerous, a lot more expensive, and the chances of success have gone way down, people are migrating to other African countries.
Is the EU’s current strategy sustainable?
As demonstrated in last year’s Mixed Migration Review, the securitisation of migration is present at every step of the journey. It’s ironic that while insecurity helps drive migration, migrants face securitised conditions all the way to their destination. This might have some short-term gains in terms of reduced numbers of migrants. But I think in the longer term these gains will come at the cost of more instability, which will itself lead to more irregular migration.
This is what we see in a place like Niger. Disrupting the smuggling business around Agadez has stranded people in the country and increased tensions between migrants and host communities. Former smugglers are out of business, they're unemployed. They are potentially susceptible for recruitment into the jihadist groups active in that area. I think all in all, this is really a vicious cycle that shows that a blanket securitised approach to migration is not going to work. Interestingly, a report by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee came to the same conclusion.
In short, I think there is an imbalance between the various actors involved the migration issue. Whilst there is a need for a comprehensive approach, at present the conversation is circular. African countries say, ‘we’d like more legal migration channels, more work visas for the EU’. The EU says, ‘we're not offering those unless you accept returns and failed asylum seekers’. And the Africans respond, ‘well, we won't take returns unless we get more legal migration’. Someone needs to show leadership and break the cycle. Somebody needs to make the first move.